Silos are death
The more we learn about what works in fundraising today, the more we’re encouraged to focus on the donor’s journey or the donor’s experience. Customer service – something that has always been important – is suddenly getting more notice.
That’s a really good thing.
One thing guaranteed to hurt customer service is when internal staff and systems aren’t communicating – or are flat-out competing.
That’s when silos are death to your organization.
Here’s where these conflicts may be lurking:
1. Between fundraising and finance
Has this happened to you? It happened to me once. The person in charge of finance didn’t play well with others. He refused to share budgets with the development department.
Have you tried to write a grant application without budgets?
In this case, it was a power play – not successful in the long run, because… grant applications. But this conflict can also stem from trust issues.
While you might not need all budget detail – like every employee’s salary – you do need enough information to assure funders your organization is working well and responsibly. And funders know the numbers tell a story.
This is a pretty obvious example of how silos hurt. In this case, the boss enforced a détente – one that involved giving development just the minimum amount of information we needed. That’s not the best outcome, but it worked for a while.
Ideally, you should bond with your finance office. You share some pretty important goals – like adequate funding for the organization. And together, you can make sure each department is doing its best. Reconciling accounts, for instance. When your numbers don’t match, you both know you’ve found a problem.
2. Between fundraising and program staff
I’ve found issues here often begin with overworked people in both areas. And each assuming the other has the easier job.
What’s usually true is you’re both working your butts off to see the mission succeed. Respect is critical!
Program staff are on the front lines. They bring the mission to life. They often interact with volunteers as well. That’s hard work. It’s often emotionally and physically exhausting work.
It might help you to understand that they see fundraising staff as people who dress up and sit at desks. Our work looks easy from a distance!
But again, your interests mesh. Your program staff want to see the mission succeed. They also know they need resources to do their work. When they realize you’re interested in their work and support it wholeheartedly, attitudes tend to change.
Program staff can be a fundraiser’s best resource – and sometimes, the best solicitors. They can bring you stories that light up your fundraising. They can share data that make your funders eager to support you.
You need to be sure they know you understand that. Respect their hard work. Ask them to help you understand what they do – and why. Come work with them for an hour or a day – that will help you fundraise so much better!
3. Between fundraising and marketing/communications
This relationship can be like warring siblings. When we were little, my sister and I often got the same gifts at Christmas – one in blue and one in pink. Otherwise, competition set in – who got the better stuff?
Because fundraising and marketing are similar, a push-pull over resources is almost inevitable.
Which priorities matter most? Who gets control over the email list or website?
This is the area where silos can do tremendous damage. I firmly believe fundraising and communications must work together and focus on the same priorities.
Fundraising needs marketing help to find new donors and broaden their base of support. Marketing needs to understand donors are a priority – and may be the best ambassadors to spread the message. Your brand isn’t about making your organization look good – it’s about how people feel about you.
The organization exists to fulfill its mission – and fundraising is an important part of that mission.
But you may not be able to rectify the competition yourself. I’ve worked with wonderful marketers – who were good friends – and we still had to battle over resources.
This is a leadership issue. If the organization’s priority is not clear, these two departments will feel bound by the differing goals set for them.
4. Between fundraisers
The most foolish of all these silos are walls between different areas of fundraising. Who gets the credit for the gift?
This is craziness. If your organization looks at donors as individuals, not ATMs, you have to focus on how the donor relationship is developing, not who gets the “win”.
And again, this is a question of leadership and of organizational culture. What are you measuring? Just dollars, or retention? Donor satisfaction, or notches in each fundraiser’s belt?
Fix this: celebrate every win as a team. Encourage everyone to treat every donor or funder as a welcomed guest. Track what you’ve raised, but find other ways to measure individual performance. Dollars are pretty simple to measure. Retention and donor service take more effort – but it’s worth it.
Silos hurt your relationships with donors and other people who may want to help your cause. They waste time and energy and leave everyone feeling embattled.
If you don’t have them – congratulations! Keep up the good fight against them. If you do, make eliminating these barriers an organizational priority.
Your organization’s future could depend on it.
Read this good piece on building a leadership team from Joan Garry.
And this piece from Veritus Group about silos.
Jeff Brooks on why silos choke off conversation.